- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - A state advisory committee has recommended that Texas shut down six of its 13 residential facilities for individuals with mental and developmental disabilities.

The recommendation comes from a Department of Aging and Disability Services report released last month, the El Paso Times reported (https://bit.ly/1lEu4iO ) Monday. The agency runs the centers.

A committee of the Sunset Commission, a state panel that suggests ways to improve Texas agencies, made the recommendation. The panel gave several reasons, including costs and ongoing controversies over the quality of care at the centers.

“(State centers) have been a hotbed of controversy over the last 40 years, including the current U.S. Department of Justice oversight due to safety and quality of care issues,” the report said. “Meanwhile, the state spends a tremendous amount of money and effort trying to improve the quality of care at the centers … Staff concluded that the state could no longer afford to support all 13 centers.”

Texas and the Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement in 2009 after various civil rights violations, including abuse and deaths, at the state centers.

“Under the agreement, monitoring teams checked the centers for compliance every six months, but after five years of such monitoring, several (state centers) have made close to no progress and even the most compliant centers still have far to go,” the report said.

The goal was to reach compliance by June 2014. Since this goal has not been met, the Department of Aging and Disability Services is hoping to negotiate adjustments to the Justice Department agreement, the report said. State officials had estimated that it will cost $175.7 million to fix the most critical deficiencies at the centers.

The committee recommended closing the state center in Austin first - by August 2017. Five other centers would close by August 2022 under the recommendation. Those centers were not named.

About 3,650 individuals are cared for at the state centers across Texas. At their peak, the 13 centers housed a combined 13,700 residents. The 2013 fiscal year budget for all 13 centers was $661.9 million.

The state center in Abilene, which houses 398 residents and has 1,472 employees, has the biggest budget: $55.4 million.

Department of Aging and Disability Services spokeswoman Melissa Gale said all the state centers remain open at this time.

“The Sunset Commission recommendations are in no way final,” Gale said. “They must still be drafted into a bill this fall for lawmakers to consider during the next legislative session which begins Jan. 15.”

Gale said the next public hearing on the state centers is scheduled for November in Austin, and concerned people can also offer their views on the Sunset Commission’s website.

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Information from: El Paso Times, https://www.elpasotimes.com

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